Autistic & unapologetic

Resources for learners with special needs are scarce in Namibia, but Almarie Mostert and her team are working hard to make the necessary change

04 February 2020 | Education

Iréne-Mari van der Walt

As Stepping Stones Special Education School approaches its fifth anniversary this year, the school for children with autism and similar special needs is bursting at the seams.

Contrary to popular belief, autism is not an isolated disorder but a range of similar disorders that fall on a spectrum, hence the name Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The principal, Almarie Mostert, says that the school has obtained a plot on which they hope to build a school suitable for their needs during this year.

Mostert recalls starting the school in with three students and now boasts with 20 students and 14 on a waiting list.

“We unfortunately have to charge school fees since we don’t receive subsidies and most of the students on the waiting list cannot afford it, but we are working hard to try accommodating them,” she says.

The school aims to help 12 children this year – double the number of students they helped last year.

Mostert recalls working in England as a teacher before moving to Namibia where she helped a student on the autism spectrum in their conventional schooling.

“This child had a tutor and we were very fortunate that his parents could afford a tutor, so I helped him keep up with his work.”

She was then approached with a proposal for a second student who had circumstances similar to her first student, but it wasn’t until a little girl with Down syndrome needed help that Mostert founded Stepping Stones.

She says the biggest problem for children with special needs is not their disorders, but the stigmas surrounding their disorders. “Many children on the autism spectrum do not get accepted to normal school and those that did get accepted struggled with the work and their peers.”

Mostert stresses the importance of education on the topic. “I think the most important thing is understanding. Parents and people in general must understand what the disorder is. So many parents complain about something their child does without realising that this is what comes with the disorder.”

She tells that Stepping Stones is as much a safe space for parents as it is for the children. “I think we have a great space where parents can interact and learn from each other. In a way, it’s also like a support group for them since parents often feel like their situation is isolated.”

The earlier the disorder is detected, the better. “Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder so parents should be on the lookout from ages one and two. If the child does not develop speech normally, it could be an indicator.” She explains that delayed development of the child is a prominent sign. “You’ll notice that the child is in their own world. The child locks themselves out,” she says.

Mostert explains that other signs include repetitive and obsessive behaviour. “A child may line toy trains up perfectly and never play with them but insist they stay perfectly aligned,” she proposes as an example. Mostert says that disorders on the autism spectrum can often overlap with obsessive compulsive disorders.

With World Autism Awareness month two months away, we can all use the time wisely and brush up on our autism knowledge.

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